BETHESDA, Md. — Saturday at Congressional was not the first time Tiger Woods has played before so few fans.
There were those 6 a.m. practice rounds at the British Open. Or the occasional PGA Tour event where fans were evacuated because of a thunderstorm and hardly anyone returned at twilight when play resumed. There surely was the odd junior event he played when he was 8.
But teeing off in the late afternoon at the AT&T National, on a steamy but sun-filled day on a fabled course in a golf-mad area like Washington?
Woods had the largest crowd of the day, even though it never topped 100 people. Brendon de Jonge, who had a 2-under 69 to take a one-shot lead, had as many birdies (three) as people in his gallery on a strange, silent Saturday at Congressional.
A violent wind storm overnight that toppled dozens of trees and littered the course with limbs forced tournament officials to keep spectators and all but the essential volunteers away from Congressional for the third round. Considering the amount of debris, it was amazing they even played.
“I've played in front of people like this,” Woods said. “But not generally for an 18-hole competitive round.”
De Jonge was steady in the sweltering conditions for a third straight round in the 60s, which gave his first 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour. One shot behind were Woods (67), former OSU golfer Bo Van Pelt (67) and S.Y. Noh (69).
De Jonge, a South African going for his first PGA Tour win, made his final birdie on the 12th hole with a wedge out of the rough that climbed over a ridge and settled about 12 feet behind the cup. It was worthy of applause, but there was only one person in the gallery to see it — Kandi Mahan, the wife of Hunter Mahan.
Indeed, this was a day like few others on the PGA Tour.
A few volunteers, tournament staff and club members tagged along after Woods, and provided about the only noise of the round. They watched him and Van Pelt get off to a quick start, and then match pars on the back nine to get close to the lead.
“I told Tiger that was a Bo Van Pelt crowd, so I was used to that,” Van Pelt said. “I was very comfortable with 10 or 15 people watching me play golf. No, it was just nice to get it in. I think we're all fortunate that nobody got hurt out here last night. It's a credit to the grounds staff that they got this golf course ready. I'm sure if you saw pictures of what it looked like at midnight, the fact that we played golf today is a minor miracle.”
De Jonge was at 7-under 206 and will play in the final group with Van Pelt and Woods, who is going for his third win of the year. Woods won the AT&T National the last time it was held at Congressional in 209.
Billy Hurley, the Navy veteran who grew up in the area, had a 66 and was two shots back, along with Mahan, another former OSU golfer, who stumbled to a 73.
Sunday might be a return to normal, at least with the noise, especially with Woods in the final group.
The final round will be threesomes going off both sides, giving the grounds crew even more time to clean up the course. For Saturday, it did well to put chain saws to the toppled trees and collects the hundreds of branches scattered across the fairways and pile them up outside the ropes.